A Different Side of Jerry Brown Revealed at Memorial for Fresno Lawmaker

 On Saturday October 19, Gov. Jerry Brown attended a memorial in Fresno for former state senator and appellate justice George Zenovich.

The event, not listed on the Democratic governor’s public schedule, was supposed to begin at 11 a.m., shortly after Brown arrived. It didn’t conclude until nearly 2:30 p.m.

Jerry Brown at a memorial for Fresno lawmaker George Zenovich. Photo by Diana Baldrica of The Fresno Bee

Jerry Brown at a memorial for Fresno lawmaker George Zenovich. Photo by Diana Baldrica of The Fresno Bee

Brown was the last of nine speakers reminiscing about the easy-going but effective Zenovich, a Fresno Democrat who carried the 1975 legislation creating the Arts Council and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board. 

The governor made no effort to be moved higher in the program to accommodate his schedule. Of Zenovich he said:

“George was a real human being. He wasn’t just about taking a position. He had a human touch. He had real values and he had a sense of what’s wrong but he wasn’t a partisan,” Brown told a luncheon audience of 200.

Brown said a quote from Johann Sebastian Bach “kinda” captured his feelings about Zenovich, who died of cancer at 91 on September 26:

 “I play the notes but it’s God who makes the music.”

Not necessarily known for his warmth or empathy, Brown also traveled to Fresno in September to visit Zenovich but arrived shortly after he died. Brown remained and spent an hour with Zenovich’s family.

“It says something about the governor and it says a lot about Zeno,” said California Democratic Party Chair John Burton, who served with Zenovich in the Legislature.

Burton, former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Rep. Jim Costa and former Rep. Rick Lehman, Zenovich’s chief of staff in the 1960s, recalled Zenovich as principled and unflappable. A condolence letter from former GOP Gov. George Deukmejian, read by Fresno appellate court justice Chuck Poochigian, described Zenovich as having a “musician’s heart.”

A fan of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, Zenovich was a gifted stand-up bass player.

Marina Zenovich, a documentary filmmaker, created an 8-minute video tribute to her father that began the luncheon program. 

“What a life this guy had,” Marina Zenovich said. “He had looks. He had luck. He had class and style. A musician’s heart and an adventurer’s soul. Dear old Dad, Zeno, may you be somewhere beautiful looking down on us and smiling. Swing, baby.”


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